Enhanced expression of the type IV collagenases MMP-2 and MMP-9, or lack of their inhibitors TIMP-1 and TIMP-2, has been associated with tumour invasion and metastatic potential in several experimental models. Regulation of enzyme activity is clearly a key step in tumour invasion, and recently a potent activator of MMP-2, the membrane-associated MT1-MMP, has been described and characterized. Using an immunohistochemical approach, this study has examined the expression and distribution of the type IV collagenases, their inhibitors, and the activator MT1-MMP, in a series of 79 infiltrating ductal carcinomas (IDCs), 8 tubular carcinomas, and 27 infiltrating lobular carcinomas (ILCs). MMP-2 and MT1-MMP were expressed in more than 90 per cent of all carcinomas, with predominantly stromal and tumour cell cytoplasmic staining. However, reactivity localized on tumour cell membranes was recorded for MMP-2 in 34 per cent of cases with a monoclonal antibody and 55 per cent of cases with a polyclonal antibody, and for MT1-MMP in 68 per cent of tumours. In each case, this pattern of staining was significantly associated with the presence of lymph node metastasis (p=0.001, p=0. 008, and p=0.1, respectively). Both tumour cell and stromal staining was observed for TIMP-2, but there was no correlation with metastatic status. The 92 kD gelatinase MMP-9 was expressed by 68 per cent of carcinomas, either in the stromal compartment or by tumour cells. There was a highly significant correlation between the expression pattern of MMP-9 and tumour type, with ILCs displaying greater frequency and more homogeneous cytoplasmic staining than IDCs (p=0.0004). Staining for TIMP-1 was seen in the stroma and also in relation to small blood vessels, with more than 90 per cent of tumours showing this staining pattern using a polyclonal antibody. This study indicates distinct patterns of expression for different MMPs and demonstrates the potential importance of the MMP-2/MT1-MMP system in breast tumour progression. The association of MMP-9 with the infiltrating lobular phenotype may reveal novel mechanisms of control for this metalloproteinase.
Copyright 1999 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.